[ “On the 600s, we were going flat-out and running into each other,” said JD Beach (73). “Eric Bostrom and Roger Hayden said the SuperBikes push the front tire all the way through the banking. That’s pretty crazy!” (Photo by Riles & Nelson) ]
Two weeks after finishing fourth in the Daytona 200, his mature on-track performance publicly praised by veteran riders, 19-year-old JD Beach was back on familiar ground: racing short-track. In the regional warm-up for April’s third round of the AMA Pro Grand National Championship in DuQuoin, Illinois, running AMA-spec Dunlops, not the locally favored softer-compound Maxxis rubber, Beach carded first- and fifth-place finishes. Later, rolling on Maxxis, he was second.In 2010, racing a limited GNC schedule, Beach finished eighth overall in Pro Singles, dirt-track’s feeder class for young talent. On pavement, he won the AMA Pro SuperSport East Region title.“Last year was my breakthrough year,” said Beach. “I did really well in dirt-track—I won four of the six Pro Singles races that I entered and got on the podium in my first Expert race. I also won eight SuperSport races. I hoped that I would have some offers on the table at the end of 2010.”
Blame a down economy, but Beach didn’t receive any offers. So, at Daytona this past March, he found himself paired with Eric Bostrom on Team Cycle World Attack Performance Kawasaki ZX-6Rs. A pretty good gig, as it turned out…
I first met mop-haired Beach at the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello in 2007. He was one of three Americans, along with Cameron Beaubier and Kris Turner, who were competing in the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. Beach, a dirt rider since age 3, was struggling to make the transition to tarmac on the two-stroke KTM 125s.
“I was traveling with Cameron,” he recalled, “and he was doing good. He was going so fast, either winning or crashing, and I was back in 18th or whatever.”
Beach was befriended by Casey Stoner, another dirt-tracker who was on his way to winning the MotoGP title. “I spent a lot of time with Casey,” said Beach. “He’s been a big influence in my racing. He showed me that hard work can get you there.”
Beach finished sixth at April’s AMA short-track national in DuQuoin, Illinois: “It was my home race and everyone thought I was going to win,” he said. “Kenny Coolbeth, Chris Carr and Jake Johnson didn’t get the memo.” (Photo by Brent Pierce)
Stoner’s tutoring paid off: Beach won the Rookies Cup title in 2008. “Going from 2007 to ’08, something clicked,” he said. “At the first test, I was second-quickest. I got five seconds. Later in the year, I finally got a win.”
In retrospect, Beach wishes he were still racing in Europe. “I was young and dumb,” he said. “I got homesick a lot. Now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m working harder than ever and training as much as I can. When I went to Daytona this year, I knew what I needed to do.”
Last season, Beach rode a Yamaha YZF-R6 for Texas-based Rockwall Performance. “Rockwall was more low-key, like a family,” he said. “Attack Performance is a lot more serious. They are there to win. It’s a business.
“The Rockwall bikes were great. They were always prepared well and ready to go. At Attack, Richard [Stanboli] makes a lot of the parts at his shop, so the parts are more fine-tuned to the bikes. That’s the difference between a satellite team, like Rockwall, and Attack with its factory support.
“I remember being at Laguna Seca when I was 12 or 13 years old and going up and talking to JJ [mechanic Jim Matter] while he was working on Roger Hayden’s bike. This year at Daytona, he was working on my bikes. It was a cool experience.”
Before Daytona, Beach flew to California for four days of testing at Buttonwillow Raceway and Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. “I built a good relationship with [Kawasaki’s] Joey [Lombardo],” said Beach. “Our bikes were definitely fast, but Daytona was just like any other race weekend. I was there to do the same thing: win.”
Beach caravanned to Daytona from Kentucky with his adopted family, the Gillims—hot-shoe cousins to the racing Haydens—and his dirt-track mechanic, James Hart. On the way, Beach stopped off for a pair of half-mile races, the first in Savannah, Georgia, and the second in Barbersville, Florida.
“I got the full dirt-track experience again—sleeping in my van, showering in borrowed hotel rooms,” said Beach. “It reminded me of when my dad and I were going to races, just me and him. It brought back some good memories.”
Beach intended to race the Daytona short-track season opener, but he missed qualifying due to a schedule conflict at the Speedway caused by weather.
Before the 200, Beach sent 2006 MotoGP World Champion and 2002 Daytona winner Nicky Hayden a text message, asking for tips.
“Daytona is a really different track—there’s nothing else like it,” said Beach. “It’s the first race of the season, and you have to be ready because it’s a big chess game.” (Photo by Tim White)
“They might be top-secret,” he laughed, “so I’m not sure I can share that information in case he ever wants to come back! Nah, he told me to focus on my pit stops and just be patient, that it’s a long race.” From the get-go, the 200 went smoothly for Beach, who qualified fourth-quickest, one spot ahead of Bostrom, and was credited with leading Laps 19 and 20.
“I was just riding with the lead group,” said Beach. “I had the perfect seat to learn. I think that first stint [before the red flag] was really important, not just for this season but my career.
“My goal was to not make any bonehead moves and take out any of the veterans. I’m going to be racing with these guys, so it wouldn’t be too smart to make a lot of enemies before the season really got started.”
When he learned the remainder of the race had been shortened from 30 to 15 laps, Beach knew he didn’t have to worry about running out of gas or saving tires.
“It was go time,” he said.
If he were able to do all over again, Beach says he would have been more aggressive entering the Chicane on the final go-round.
“On the second-to-last lap, I was fifth or sixth—a long way back—and got up to second,” he said. “If I’d been third on the last lap, maybe I could have won. The Kawasaki was so fast.”
Beach had a front-row, 175-mph seat for the last-lap clash just shy of the checkers between Graves Yamaha rider Josh Herrin and new M4 Suzuki recruit Dane Westby. Herrin stayed upright, but Westby, rear-ended on the way down by experienced privateer Taylor Knapp, fell hard. Herrin was fined and will sit out Round 2 of the series at Infineon Raceway.
“Everyone has a different view of what racing should be,” said Beach. He added that it’s AMA Pro Racing’s job to enforce the rules, “otherwise, it’s just going to be crazy.”
Beach says he was “lucky” this year and not just because he avoided the last-lap melee. “I got to do my first pit stop,” he said. “I got to experience Daytona SportBike and what it’s like to run in that class. Infineon will be a sprint race, so, hopefully, I’ll be ready.
“Nicky Hayden did what I want to do. I want to come from dirt-track, win AMA races, go to MotoGP and win the world championship. Daytona was a big step toward that goal.”